The National Football League (NFL) has seen its fair use of anti-inflammatories and opioids by its professional football players. Some players have even used banned substances such as marijuana at the risk of suspension by the league. This had led to calls for safer methods of pain management for players. Cannabidiol, popularly abbreviated as CBD, has been growing in popularity as a safe, non-addictive, and natural alternative for professional athletes looking for potential pain management solutions. There has been an increasing number of professional football players advocating for the league to allow the use of CBD.

The Use of CBD in Professional Sports

In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of banned substances among athletes. THC, the cannabinoid from the marijuana responsible for the high feeling, still remains on the list of banned substances though.

The FIFA World Cup held in Russia in 2018 allowed the use of CBD products, so players weren’t penalized for using CBD. The BIG3 basketball league was the first professional sports league to legalize the use of CBD among its players; the league is even sponsored by a CBD company. While hockey and baseball leagues are yet to officially allow players to use CBD, they have a tolerance for it and have relaxed their penalties. The NBA, however, still outlaws the use of CBD products by basketball players in-season.

As the world of sports relaxes its stance on the use of CBD by professional athletes, professional football players have been at the forefront in the push for the NFL to allow the use of CBD.

Professional Football Players Advocating for the Use of CBD in the NFL

Eugene Monroe played in the NFL for seven seasons before he retired in 2016. Before his retirement, Monroe was already campaigning for the NFL to remove CBD, and medical marijuana, from the list of banned substances. Monroe believes that CBD is a healthier and more natural alternative to widely used, highly addictive opioids. He has been active in the campaign for the use of CBD by players, and has even funded research into how CBD could be beneficial to professional football players. Monroe retired at 29 because of concerns about the head trauma he had received over the course of his career.

A number of NFL players, both former and current, have come out in support of the use of CBD by professional football players. Some of them include the following:

Derrick Morgan

The Tennessee Titans linebacker retired from active football in July 2019. He has discussed using CBD regularly as part of his training program to manage pain. He joined Eugene Monroe in the advocacy for the legalization of CBD use among professional football players because he believes it could be beneficial to them. Morgan is a member of Athletes for Care and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, two organizations that have been pushing for sports associations to allow pro athletes to use CBD and medical marijuana.

Marvin Washington

Marvin Washington had an illustrious 11-year career in the NFL as a member of the New York Jets. After retiring from professional football, Washington became a board member of Athletes for Care and now advocates for the approved use of CBD and medical marijuana. Washington believes that the fact that many countries and sports associations are relaxing their stand on the use of CBD is putting a lot of pressure on the United States and the NFL to change their policies.

David Ahrens

The 60-year old former NFL star believes that had CBD been discovered during his playing years, he wouldn’t have taken as much pain medication as he did during his career. Ahrens said that teams were more concerned with the player’s performance than their health, so pain medications such as codeine were handed out to them by doctors like they were candy.

Terrell Davis

The former Denver Broncos running back believes that he wouldn’t have retired as soon as he did if he had access to CBD during his career. Davis retired from active football because of a persistent knee injury. During an interview, Davis said that his body felt great and he was no longer in pain ever since he started using CBD products.

Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams played in the NFL for 12 seasons. However, he was once suspended and disgraced by the NFL after testing positive for marijuana. Williams was also forced to enter a substance abuse program. He was using marijuana to manage severe social anxiety, and believed that marijuana worked better than the pharmaceutical drug that had been prescribed for him for anxiety and depression.

Many other professional players have called for the use of CBD in the NFL. Examples include NFL legend and Super Bowl Champion Jim McMahon, Kyle Turley, Jake Plummer, Christian Okoye, Leonard Marshall, Eben Britton, and Nate Jackson among others. The advocacy for the use of CBD continues to gather momentum, but it remains to be seen whether the NFL will allow the use of CBD in the football league.

Why Players Are Advocating for the Use of CBD

Every NFL player wants the glory associated with winning the Super Bowl. However, this glory can come at the expense of pain, collisions, and concussions with every kick, tackle, fumble, and touchdown. Every year, dozens of concussions are reported in the league. America’s most popular sport is also one of the most dangerous. The game is physically demanding and injuries are quite common.

Some of the most common injuries in the NFL involve knee ligament, foot, ankle, shoulder, muscles, and shin splint injuries. However, head injuries are the most serious and worrying. Unfortunately, head injuries are a common occurrence in the football league. Many players even end up with a degenerative brain disease. Professional football players are increasingly likely to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Some of the common symptoms of CTE include:

-        Memory loss

-        Feelings of confusion

-        Depression and suicidal thoughts

-        Aggression

-        Issues with impulse control

-        Progressive dementia

Football players are also likely to suffer from the following as a result of head injuries:

-        Concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptomized by chronic fatigue, concentration issues, memory loss, confusion, and problematic communication among others.

-        Cerebral contusion symptomized by headaches, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and seizures.

-        Intracranial hematoma: the accumulation of blood between the brain and the skull.

To deal with these issues, many teams have allowed their players to use prescription medications and controlled substances. Unfortunately, this has led to addiction problems among players and additional health concerns related to the prolonged use of such medications. The body can also build tolerance over time so players might need stronger medications or higher doses.

CBD is seen by some as the safest and best alternative to these pharmaceutical medications, even though research on the perceived health benefits of CBD is not yet conclusive. While the FDA has not approved CBD for the treatment of pain, former players have said that they discontinued their pain medications and felt better after trying CBD products.

Some of the perceived benefits that CBD may bring to professional football players include help in alleviating pain, dealing with anxiety and depression, improving the quality of sleep, and even helping players struggling with opioid addiction. It is important to note that research is still investigating how accurate these claims are, and conclusive results have not yet been reached.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has expressed concerns over the use of CBD products by professional football players. Goodell said that the presence of the other compounds in CBD products could end up harming the players in the long run. Goodell also expressed concerns with inhalation as a way of consuming CBD products, as it can harm the lungs. Critics responded by saying that the dosage, presence of the other cannabinoids, and the prescribed manner of consumption could be easily regulated.

It is hoped that once conclusive research is completed regarding the health benefits of CBD, the NFL and other sports bodies will review and relax their stance on the use of CBD by professional athletes. Until then, players who consume CBD will be doing so at their own risk, and could jeopardize their careers if tests are positive.

Conclusion

While things are changing at a slow pace with regards to allowing professional NFL players to use CBD, some progress is being made. The anti-doping testing policy has already been relaxed. More substantial policy changes will, however, be necessary for the long run. Players also recognize the need to help the NFL understand their concerns. CBD proponents hope that instead of the NFL adopting an iron-fisted approach, it will instead fund research that will help provide conclusive data and hard evidence concerning the benefits of CBD to professional football players. Sooner or later, we might see the use of CBD by professional football players allowed in the NFL.